Tuesday 30 September 2014

Food 'n' Flix Roundup - Funny Girl

It's been a crazy month of redecorating the new house but I've finally got time to put together the Food 'n' Flix roundup. I chose the Barbra Streisand musical Funny Girl as the movie to take inspiration from; I'd never seen the film before but it's a classic. I hoped that the locations, the era and perhaps also the plot would give people ideas for things to make.

My own entry was inspired by Fanny and Nick's trip to Baltimore where they eat seafood in a fancy restaurant; I went to Baltimore last year (I live in London) and picked up some Old Bay seasoning, so I made this Chesapeke Bay Stuffed Cod. It was very good!

Evelyne from Cheap Ethnic Eatz made these Lemon Cream Cheese Truffled Grapes. She had mixed feelings about the movie which seems to be saying that appearances count for a lot, and if you're not pretty (as Fanny isn't meant to be), you need to be funny. At the same time, this is based on a true story as Fanny and Nick were real people! Evelyne cleverly noticed that we see a bunch of plastic grapes attached to Fanny’s costume in two back-to-back musical numbers and so made these stuffed grapes. They look very easy to make and would make an unusual but healthy snack.

 At one point in the movie Fanny is explaining how she always feels like a misft, and says "I'm a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls". Joanne from What's On The List spotted this and so made just that! I love how excited she was about watching this film and admits that she had a crush on Omar Sharif, who plays Nick. I'm glad you enjoyed this challenge so much, Joanne!

 Amy from Amy's Cooking Adventures almost made a bagel on a plateful of onion rolls as well, but then decided to bake something sweet. She was inspired by one of the musical numbers where Fanny and other performers are dressed as brides - I love this scene as Fanny makes what should be a romantic song into a comedy by stuffing a pillow up her dress and pretending to be pregnant. Amy was inspired by the autumn bride in the song and made this beautiful autumnal wedding cake. It's a pumpkin spiced cake, with browned buttercream cheese frosting and is decorated with trees and birds made from marshmallow fondant.

Finally Heather at Girlichef, who is the creator of the Food 'n' Flix challenge, treated us to a Funny Girl cocktail. She had all kinds of ideas for things to make but ran out of time, but I think this cocktail is the perfect tribute to Fanny Brice. It has sherry - there's a line when Nick offers Fanny a dry sherry and, self-deprecating (and honest!) as usual, Fanny quips: "I wouldn't know dry from wet". It has a splash of rosewater - because even though by the end of the film Fanny is wealthy and successful, she says she will never forget living as a "second hand rose" and finally it is topped off with pink bubbly, which is Fanny all over. I bet it tastes delicious!

Funny Girl Cocktail for #FoodnFlix | girlichef.com

Thanks to everyone who took part this month, I'm glad the movie inspired so many different ideas!

Check out the main Food 'n' Flix page to find out who is hosting in October and what movie they have chosen.

So, which direction did I take and what exactly makes up a Funny Girl cocktail? I'm so happy you asked...
  • dry sherry—a nod to Fanny and Nick reuniting, when he offers her a very dry sherry, and she replies that she "wouldn't know dry from wet".
  • a splash of rosewater—because even though she has plenty of money now, she hasn't forgotten living as a "Second Hand Rose".
  • topped off with pink bubbly—to celebrate the fabulousness that is Fanny Brice.
- See more at: http://www.girlichef.com/2014/09/funny-girl-cocktail.html#more
So, which direction did I take and what exactly makes up a Funny Girl cocktail? I'm so happy you asked...
  • dry sherry—a nod to Fanny and Nick reuniting, when he offers her a very dry sherry, and she replies that she "wouldn't know dry from wet".
  • a splash of rosewater—because even though she has plenty of money now, she hasn't forgotten living as a "Second Hand Rose".
  • topped off with pink bubbly—to celebrate the fabulousness that is Fanny Brice.
- See more at: http://www.girlichef.com/2014/09/funny-girl-cocktail.html#more

Filet Mignon with Sauce Bordelaise, in honor of the famous exchange between Nick and Fanny:

Speaking in French, Nick orders "filet de boeuf, sauce bordelaise".
Franny remarks,  "I would have ordered roast beef and potatoes."
To which, Nick replies with a smile, "I did".
- See more at: http://www.girlichef.com/#sthash.BognvrRT.dpuf
Filet Mignon with Sauce Bordelaise, in honor of the famous exchange between Nick and Fanny:

Speaking in French, Nick orders "filet de boeuf, sauce bordelaise".
Franny remarks,  "I would have ordered roast beef and potatoes."
To which, Nick replies with a smile, "I did".
- See more at: http://www.girlichef.com/#sthash.BognvrRT.dpuf

Monday 29 September 2014

Meal Planning Monday 2014 - week 40

I've finally got internet access at home and got almost the whole of the next two weeks off - unfortunately it's to do nothing more exciting than decorate, build flat-pack furniture and unpack! On the other hand our new house is finally starting to look really nice.

My boyfriend is also off for the first week and I know he won't be keen for me to spend time cooking when I could be decorating but I really need to get back on the diet bandwagon so that means making time to prepare healthy meals - but ones that don't take too long to cook. So here is this week's plan:

Lunch- bacon sandwich for him, pasta for me
Dinner – Spanish paprika chicken with mashed potatoes (I’m skipping tonight’s choir rehearsal)
Lunch- chicken ciabatta
Dinner- sticky five spice gammon steaks, with Slimming World chips
Lunch – tuna pasta for me, beans on toast for him
Dinner- chicken curry for him, prawn curry for me
Lunch - baked potato and salad for me, bacon sandwich for him
Dinner- Slimming World diet coke chicken
Lunch – I’m at the Cake and Bake Show today so will take a packed lunch
Dinner- will be home late so burger and chips as my boyfriend can put that on
Lunch - hot dogs with Quorn sausages for me
Dinner – will probably go to my boyfriend’s mum’s. She always has a takeaway on a Saturday so he will do the same but  I think I need to stick to my diet and will cook my own dinner and will have fish and vegetables.
Lunch - soup and bread roll
Dinner - steak and chips

Sunday 28 September 2014

Restaurant Review: The English Restaurant, Spitalfields

Once every three months, my colleagues and I have to get into work very early (5am early) and once we are done with the urgent work, we go out for a team breakfast around 9am. One colleague said he had often walked past the English Restaurant in Spitalfields and was curious about the name and what it was like, so we decided to try it for our breakfast. The English Restaurant is a family-owned restaurant boasting fine wines, ports and brandies on its exterior; the interior is oak panelled, resembling a pub perhaps more than a restaurant, but still managing to be bright and airy.

The menu does indeed sound very British - dinner choices include steak and onion pudding, braised pork cheeks and rabbit braised in cider, with desserts like bread and butter puddign and rhubarb crumble. I had to look up pan haggerty, which is apparently some sort of potato, onion and cheese dish from Northumberland. They also offer afternoon tea, but we were there for breakfast. I was impressed by the number of options on the breakfast menu - perhaps the restaurant's proximity to Spitalfields market, and the number of early bird workers in the area, explains it. You can have yogurt, granola, porridge, kippers or bubble and squeak, kedgeree, all kinds of eggs, a bacon or sausage sandwich and of course the full English or vegetarian breakfast.

One of my colleagues went for the full English, which he said was excellent. I've never really liked the full English breakfast but this time wanted something more than a sausage sandwich, so ordered the eggs royale - smoked salmon and poached egg on an English muffin, topped with hollandaise sauce. I actually thought this was eggs Benedict but apparently that uses ham or bacon instead of smoked salmon. It was absolutely delicious, really filling and at £8.40 not the cheapest but definitely worth the money. This is a gem of a restaurant with 'proper' food, friendly service and I hope they are able to remain independent.

Check out the owner's blog about how the restaurant came to be - it's fascinating stuff. http://theenglishrestaurant.blogspot.co.uk/

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Chesapeke Bay Stuffed Cod

Have you ever seen Funny Girl, the classic musical mocie starring Barbra Streisand? I hadn’t – but had heard a few of the songs – so when I acme to guest host Food ‘n’ Flix in September, I thought it would be a great choice. It isn’t a movie specifically about food, but there is all sorts of inspiration that can be taken from it and translated into cooking – at least I thought so!

The film is peppered (pun intended) with food references, for instance Fanny Brice, describing herself as something of a misfit, says: "I'm a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls!".
Food also serves to underline the naivety of Fanny in contrast with her future husband Nick’s worldliness and experience; for instance he takes Fanny to a restaurant in Baltimore for lobster, which she has never eaten before and falls upon with gusto, and in another scene they are eating dinner together and Nick orders filet de boeuf, sauce bordelaise.
Fanny: I would have ordered roast beef and potatoes.
Nick: I did.

The locations – New York and Baltimore, the era, the world of vaudeville and theatre, the cruise ship they travel on, their wedding and indeed any of the songs (including Cornet Man – you could make ice cream cornets!)- all provide a starting point.
I visited Baltimore last year so was keen to make something from that city, which is famous for its seafood, in particular crab, and also a seasoning called Old Bay. I have a large bottle of Old Bay that a colleague brought back when they visited our office in Baltimore (I used to work for the London office of a company that was based there, but I have since changed jobs). Old Bay seasoning – named after the Chesapeke Bay area around Baltimore, where it is made – is a blend of herbs and spices including mustard, paprika, bay leaf, red pepper, nutmeg and ginger, and is used as a seasoning for crab but afficionados use it on all sorts of things.
I have been very pushed for time recently, having moved house at the very end of August and spending the whole of September redecorating and unpacking. So I was in a bit of a hurry to find a recipe and had a hunt around on Google and found this recipe on AllRecipes.com for Chesapeke Bay Stuffed Rockfish. I used cod instead of rockfish and changed the quantities slightly as it seemed a lot of mayonnaise but otherwise largely followed the recipe as it was given.

This is what I did:
Mixed the cubed bread with fresh parsley, Old Bay seasoning, dried mustard, black pepper, lemon juice, 6 drops of Tabasco (I didn't think it was coming out and realised afterwards it was, and I'd used too much!), mayonnaise (I left out the butter) and a tin of crabmeat.

Mix all the ingredients well in a small bowl.

Lay out a piece of fish and spoon half the filling onto the fish (there is enough filling to serve two)

Roll up and bake in the oven

Serve with vegetables and a nice glass of white wine. This was a delicious dish that was very easy to make but tasted fantastic; I will definitely do it again. Hopefully it's a dish worthy of Fanny Brice!

This is my entry to the Food 'n' Flix challenge which I am guest hosting this month, you can see my announcement post here. The round-up will follow in October - I should do it by the end of this month but you will have to forgive me as I have just moved house, am redecorating and haven't even unpacked yet!


Tuesday 23 September 2014

Delicious Makes magazine: review

Have you ever come across those hobby magazines where you get a free gift with every issue, that builds up to create something - like a ship in a bottle, or a model of a Spitfighter? The first issue is usually 99p, the second is £1.99 and before you know it, you are paying six or seven quid per issue as you need every single part to build your model once you have started.

Well, in the past few years I've noticed an upsurge in these partwork magazines but in the genre of baking and cake decorating. The best thing is, as well as getting a free gift with every issue, you don't need to buy every single one or you can't finish your project - you can dip in and out as you like.

At the train station a week or so ago I spotted a new one called Delicious Makes. It came with a magazine, a pink plastic cake stand for an individual cupcake, a pack of decorative ribbon and some cardboard doilies - and all for just 99p.

The magazine is actually a mix of recipes and crafts, mainly ways to present and decorate your bakes, which I think is a nice idea and makes it stand out a bit from other baking magazines. The recipes themselves didn't blow me away however. The tiramisu Charlotte on the front cover is great, but the creme pat and raspberry tartlets and cornets filled with chocolate truffle aren't things I am likely to make. The recipe for the party layer cake is a bit disappointing in my opinion, as it's essentially a plain sponge cake decorated with raspberries. The crafts are interesting; there are instructions for making bunting to decorate a cake, pom poms made from tissue paper (not particularly appealing to me personally), a suggestion for tying ribbons around mini loaf cakes and a couple of other ideas.

The magazine is quite slim and isn't brilliant but it does have some nice ideas, I really like the little cake stand that comes with it and for 99p you can't really go wrong!

The next issue looks like it comes with a cake tin and a rubber cookie stamp so I will keep my eye out for it.

Monday 22 September 2014

Meal Planning Monday - week 39

The end is finally in sight... most of our new house is painted, most of the new floors are down (and look amazing - we got rid of the previous owners' tatty pink carpet and have hardwood flooring throughout the house) - but we still haven't done much unpacking! It's been hard to cook proper meals when we are busy painting and when the kitchen is full of boxes, so hopefully things will get back to normal this week, though we are away for the weekend.

Monday I have choir rehearsal so my boyfriend can cook something from the freezer or go to his mum’s
Tues – Mexican fajita chicken with mashed potato
Weds- my boyfriend is out at a work dinner, so I will cook salmon and vegetables
Thurs I’m probably at work drinks so my boyfriend will go to his mum’s
Fri-Sun afternoon away visiting friends and family
Sun dinner: (will have had a big lunch)- probably something easy from the freezer as I don’t know what time we will be back.


Sunday 21 September 2014

2 course menu: cod en croute with crab and sticky toffee apple crumble


I love apple crumble and I love sticky toffee pudding, so I decided to combine the two and create my own pudding - which tastes amazing! I've never come across this before though perhaps someone has already invented it, but I am very pleased with my sticky toffee apple crumble.

I made this for the SACO Kitchen Challenge. SACO is a company that provides serviced apartments worldwide - as an alternative to staying in a hotel, where you might have more space but also the ability to cook your own meals, an option you don't have in a hotel.

The challenge is to come up with a two-course meal for two, that guests could cook in a SACO apartment kitchen with the standard equipment provided in the apartments. They sent over the inventory and I was impressed at the range of utensils, pots and pans and so on - there are too many things to list here but you get things like a mixing bowl, pie dishes, cheese grater, glass oven proof dishes, tea towels and so on.

This time of year is great to get friends and family together whether it's to go and see the fireworks on November 5, visit another country for a Halloween break or to check out the Christmas markets, or to do your own take on a Thanksgiving meal with family or friends - after all, not many people have enough room in their homes to put up that many people overnight, so you might be better off renting an apartment for a night or two!

With that in mind I wanted my two-course menu to be fairly autumnal - hearty food with warm flavours. I decided to make cod en croute stuffed with crab with potato wedges for the main course, and sticky toffee apple crumble for pudding.

Cod en Croute stuffed with  Crab - an original recipe by Caroline Makes

serves 2
2 cod fillets
170g tin of shredded crab meat
1 piece of day old bread, chopped into small cubes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp capers, chopped plus two extra for decoration
dash of lemon juice
200g ready-made puff pastry
1 egg

For the potato wedges:
5-6 potatoes depending on size
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 175C. First prepare the potato wedges. Wash and dry the potatoes with a clean tea towel. Slice with a sharp knife on a chopping board into wedges.

Line a large baking tray with foil or grease with a little oil. Toss the potatoes with the salt and a dash of oil and spread out across the tin. Bake in the oven for one hour, turning half way through.

For the fish:
Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured chopping board. Using a sharp knife, cut out a fish shape slightly bigger than your piece of fish; use that as a template to cut out another three.

Drain the tin of crab meat and mix in a small bowl with the bread, salt, cayenne pepper, mayonnaise, capers and lemon juice.

Place the cod pieces onto a piece of fish-shaped puff pastry and spoon half the crab mixture on top of each piece of fish, spreading out evenly.

Place the other piece of pastry on top. Place a caper where the fish's eye would be.

Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Serve with green veg and the potato wedges.

For the sticky toffee apple crumble
Serves 4 - ideal if there are two of you because you will want some more of this the next day!
75g unsalted butter
125g light brown sugar
2 eggs
200g self-raising flour
2 apples
50g light brown sugar
50g unsalted butter
75ml double cream

Preheat oven to 175C (or make this and the main course at the same time).

Grease a glass oven proof dish.

In a bowl cream 75g butter with 125g light brown sugar. Beat in two eggs and 200g self-raising flour.

Thinly slice two apples.

Spoon half the cake mixture into the base of the ovenproof dish and place the apple slices on top. Spoon the rest of the cake mixture on top of the apples.

To make the toffee sauce, place 50g light brown sugar, 50g unsalted butter and 75ml double cream into a small pan.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 1-2 minutes then pour over the top of the apple and cake mixture.

Place 200g plain flour, 120g butter and 120g caster sugar in a bowl and rub together with your finger tips to make a breadcrumb-like texture - this is your crumble topping. Spoon the crumble mixture over the top of the pudding.

Place the ovenproof dish on a baking tray in case of any leakage and bake in the oven for half an hour.

When you dig in you will see the base is like a sticky toffee pudding - the caramel sauce will have soaked in to the cake mixture as it cooks, giving a lovely sticky, moist base. Then you have the layer of apple in the middle and the crumble topping which will be a lovely golden brown. This is a very sweet pudding but absolutely delicious.

 This is my entry in the SACO Kitchen Challenge - thanks to SACO for providing £20 with which to purchase all the ingredients for these two courses.

I am also sending this to a blogging round-up called the Four Seasons Food challenge, hosted by Louisa at Eat Your Veg and Anneli at Delicieux. Their chosen ingredient this month is fruit.

Monday 15 September 2014

Meal Planning Monday - week 38

We moved house two weeks ago and I've never been so busy in my life. The whole house needs redecorating and we decided to get new wood floors- partly because we think they look better than carpet, and partly because the previous owners carpeted around the wardrobes rather than under them, so the bedrooms have big sections of floor with no carpet! It made sense to repaint the entire house (no small feat) before the new floors are put in, and it made sense to do that before we unpacked, as it's easier to move boxes. So two weeks into living in my dream home, and it's a total wreck!

 We have only finished one room - our bedroom - and are frantically trying to paint downstairs before the new floor is done later this week. It's not just painting the walls - we have to remove the tasteful (ahem) light fittings, take every knob and handle off the windows and doors, paint and then put them back on, paint the ceiling and coving, do the skirting boards then put masking tape all along them so we can paint the walls and not get the paint on the skirting board... that's as well as moving boxes and furniture and regular trips to B&Q to buy more paint. And that's just one room! On the plus side, my lovely new American style fridge arrived today.

So meal planning has gone out of the window - as have meals, on the whole. My boyfriend has to rabbit sit for his mum so is usually having his dinner at her house while I grab something quick at home and then go back to painting. Luckily she's back this week so we can spend some evenings together (painting, of course!) and I do have a couple of evenings out as well. So with the proviso that this meal plan is more subject to change than usual, here's what I've planned:

Monday at choir rehearsal, so I've bought a pizza for my other half

Tuesday Spanish smoked paprika chicken (easier than it sounds, from a new flavour shot from Schwartz)

I'm out at an author panel discussion and book signing that I won a ticket to -  meeting Jane Green and Lucy Diamond

Thursday day off TBC (waiting for confirmation) as the new floors are being done
Dinner burger and chips

Friday day off tbc
Sausage and mash for him, weightwatchers lasagne for me

Saturday I'm out all day at a tea tasting at the V&A then a choir rehearsal. May have to remember to buy something for my boyfriend or he will just skip lunch
Dinner home late from choir and my boyfriend's mum is just back from holiday so we will probably go to see her

Sunday lunch TBA but something quick as we are redecorating (Still!)
Dinner toad in the hole which I keep putting on the meal plan then not making!

Sunday 14 September 2014

Kinder Bueno Cupcakes

 Kinder Bueno cupcake

These Kinder Bueno cupcakes are a delicious treat that recreate the flavours of the Kinder Bueno bar and as an extra treat have a piece of the chocolate bar on top!

I got the idea from Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker who made some beautiful Kinder Bueno cupcakes. I changed quite a few elements so I think I can say this is my own recipe of course with a hat tip to Ros- mine are definitely a bit messier!

Have you eaten Kinder Bueno before? I think they tend to be aimed more at children - I remember seeing them a lot when I lived in Germany, and I always thought Kinder was German but actually it is owned by the Italian company Ferrero (as in, Rocher). The bars have a wafer base, a hazelnut cream filling and are coated in milk chocolate drizzled with (I think) dark chocolate.

 Kinder Bueno Cupcakes - an original recipe by Caroline Makes

Makes 12 cupcakes

For the cupcake:
250g butter
200g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g ground hazelnuts
125g self raising flour

For the filling:
12 tsp white chocolate spread

For the topping:
250g butter, softened
500g icing sugar
100g milk chocolate, melted
12 tsp Choc Shot liquid chocolate
3 Kinder Bueno bars

Preheat oven to 175C. In a large bowl, cream the butter and caster sugar then beat in the eggs.

Fold in the ground hazelnuts and the flour.

 Place cupcake cases in a muffin tin and spoon in equal amounts of the cake mixture. Bake for around 20 minutes until cooked.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

When the cakes have cooled, use a teaspoon or cupcake corer to scoop a small amount out of the middle of each cake. Fill each cupcake with 1 tsp white chocolate spread - this gives the lovely white creamy filling you get in a Kinder Bueno. Replace the 'lid' of the cupcakes.

Drizzle with Choc Shot - this is a low GI liquid chocolate that you can find in the supermarket hot drinks and cocoa aisle. Finally top each cupcake with a square of Kinder Bueno. These are so easy to make even children could do them!

I boxed these up in a pretty gift box and gave them to a friend who I was meeting for coffee; she has a husband and four children so six cupcakes were just right!

 I'm sending this to Alphabakes, the blog challenge I co-host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker as the letter she has chosen this month is K. I hope she doesn't mind me using her own recipe as inspiration!

Laura at I'd Much Rather Bake Than is celebrating the first birthday of the Biscuit Barrel challenge so I hope she will like these cupcakes.

The theme for Treat Petite, hosted by Stuart at Cakeyboi and Kat at the Baking Explorer is also one year old this month and has as it's theme 'anything goes'. Happy birthday to you!

I am also sending this to the Betta Living bake a cupcake competition. 
You can find details of their #bettabakeoff competition on the link above.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Restaurant review: Canteen, Spitalfields

When you have a new member of your team and he's meeting his new colleagues for the first time, you want to go for lunch somewhere that will cover all the bases. It can be very awkward if you are presented with a menu that has nothing you really like, either because it's very limited, or a bit off the wall, or it's all fish and you don't eat seafood. With this in mind, my colleagues decided to book Canteen in nearby Spitalfields for lunch with our new recruit, and everyone was happy with the choice.

The restaurant is in the covered part of Spitalfields market, so while we sat outside the restaurant, we weren't actually al fresco. Canteen describes itself as a British-led restaurant, with "honest food that is naturally sourced". In keeping with the British theme, there is one entire section of the menu dedicated to pies - the fillings change daily, but there is always a vegetable and meat option. Bar snacks include crackling, Twiglets, pork pie and sausage roll and among the main courses are sausage and mash, fish and chips and ham and cheddar ploughman's. There's even a roast with all the trimmings every Wednesday as well as Sunday It's not all hearty meat though; there is a salad section to the menu, and a grill section which offers chicken and fish. The all-day breakfast menu also looks quite appealing; with bubble and squeak or a fishfinger sandwich you're back to the traditional British theme but there's also eggs benedict, florentine or royale. Puddings - not desserts, note - are also traditionally British in theme, including Eton mess and raspberry and almond trifle.

 I was in the mood for a burger but strangely, that is one thing they don't have. Instead, as I love fish, I plumped for the fish burger with tartare sauce and hand-cut chips (£11). It tasted very good but the fish came in the form of three small pieces in batter - rather than anything burger shaped, and compared to the fish burger I ate at Inn the Park, I thought the batter was unnecessary too. Being three pieces, they kept falling out of the bun; and the bun itself started to break apart as I was eating it. You really want a bun that will hold together when you eat a burger, and when you can't easily pick it up that rather defeats the object. For that reason I wouldn't order it again, though I would go back to Canteen.

Monday 8 September 2014

Meal Planning Monday 2014- week 37

Lack of internet access at home (it's taking two weeks to install as we've moved) and lack of access to my blog at work means I have been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately! I didn't want to miss a week for the meal plan but I must apologise for the scrappy nature of this post as I am writing this on my phone!

I'm at a choir rehearsal so taking a sandwich and have bought my boyfriend a pizza

Chicken with a new kind of Mexican sauce I bought

Spaghetti bolognese

I'm off work decorating and supervising the men doing our new floor
Lunch - leftover spaghetti bolognese
Dinner - Chesapeke fish for me, beef burger for the other half

Friday- off work as yesterday
Lunch - TBA
Dinner - I'm going up to London for a friend's birthday drinks so probably need to eat dinner before my boyfriend gets home from work so I might have pasta and he can cook himself something with chips

Brunch - bacon sandwich
Dinner - at a wedding

Back on the redecorating!

Hopefully normal service in terms if planning meals, cooking and generally blogging will be resumed next week!

Thursday 4 September 2014

Slimming World Big Mac In A Bowl

If you're on a diet and missing burgers and Big Macs this recipe is just the thing. I adapted it from one in Slimming World magazine. The idea is that you have all the elements of a burger, without a bun, in a bowl - but you use extra lean or Quorn mince and a lot more lettuce.

Serves 1
 You need:
Fry Light cooking spray
125g Quorn mince (you can also use extra lean mince)
half a red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 whole little gem lettuce or about 1/4 - 1/2 iceberg lettuce
2 gherkins, sliced
1 large tomato, sliced
grated cheese (optional)

For the burger sauce:
2 tbsp extra-light mayonnaise
2 tbsp fat free fromage frais
1 tsp burger mustard
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp white wine vinegar

Spray a pan with Fry Light and fry the mince, red onion and garlic until browned.

Meanwhile mix all the ingredients in a small bowl to make the sauce.

Cover the base of a large bowl or plate with lettuce, add the sliced gherkins and tomato (if using - I left these out) and spoon the mince over the top. Drizzle the burger sauce over the top.

You can also add grated cheese on top though if you want this to be a low-calorie meal either leave it out or use a half-fat cheese!

I wasn't particularly expecting to like this and thought I would feel quite short changed while my boyfriend was eating a burger but I didn't at all, and really enjoyed it.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Turning Your Blog Into A Book

Many people who start a blog do it for their own enjoyment, or to document a personal journey, or to share news and photos with family and friends. Others set out to create a popular website, gain followers and become viewed as an expert on their subject, perhaps in the hope of using their blog as a stepping stone to a career as a writer, or a photographer, or other professional in their field.

I fell into the first category and started this blog partly to show my mum pictures of the cakes I was making! I never expected to get so many blog hits, win any awards or become part of such a vibrant blogging community.

As my blog has developed I've spent more time thinking about the kind of posts I write, going on photography courses and generally absorbing tips about blogging. I realised how much I envied certain bloggers who have big followings and are real 'names' within the food blogging community. I can be quite competitive sometimes (sometimes?!) and would love to do something that marks my blog out and shows it's a success - and I suppose the ultimate goal for many a food blogger is to publish their own cookery book.

That was never really my aim but when I saw the Guardian was running another Masterclass - I've already been to one on food writing and photography - on turning your blog into a book, I thought it would be interesting from an almost academic point of view, and I might pick up some tips about blogging, even though I obviously didn't have such lofty ambitions as turning my humble (and fairly rambling) little blog into a book. But by the end of the three-hour masterclass, I had a pitch and a plan to find an agent!

The masterclass featured three speakers with very different types of blogs, one of which was a food blog so that was very helpful. Less helpful however was the fact that all three had been approached by publishers who had stumbled across their blogs, rather than the other way around - it would have been interesting to hear from someone who actively sought out an agent and publisher and pitched their blog. Even so, I jotted down plenty of useful tips, some of which I will share with you lucky people!

Tom Jones had been living in London a few years and was getting bored of visiting the same places; as his friends started to emigrate to Australia he wondered about leaving the capital. When instead he decided to stay, Tom resolved to find new and unusual things to do in the city he thouight he knew. He started the blog for himself to catalogue the things he did or wanted to do; that was in 2008 and now Tom's blog is a popular guide for things to do in London and has spun off two books: Tired of London, Tired of Life: One Thing to Do A Day in London, and Mad Dogs & Englishmen: A Year Of Things To See And Do in England.

Tom's blog posts are short and succinct, often just two paragraphs and a photo, and a new post about something to do is published every day. This was one of Tom's first pieces of advice: readers need to know what they are getting and how regularly. I also try to publish a blog post every day (which are usually written in bulk in advance, as I can't access my blog on my lunchbreak and often don't have time in the evening). I mix up my posts with a regular feature to start the week - Meal Planning Monday - and then try to balance the types of posts between dinner recipes, cakes, restaurant reviews, product reviews etc. So you won't know exactly what kind of post I will be publishing that day, which I think keeps it fresh - and I know not all posts will be of interest to all readers, and most won't come to my blog every day (apart from my mum!) but for those who want to dip in and out, they will hopefully find something they like.

This blog is more factual than opinion, and is not self-indulgent: he tells people useful information and gives them ideas of things they can do that day. I try not to make my food blog too self-indulgent, and write about things that I think will be of interest and helpful to other people, rather than just things I am interested in. But at the same time I want my blog to have a personality and voice, and will only write about things that genuinely interest me - I have to enjoy writing my blog after all.

It can take a long time to see your book in print- Tom said it took three and a half years from starting the blog to releasing the book, and he emphasised that he didn't make much money from it at all (a sentiment that was echoed by the second speaker).

He advised that there is no set formula for book proposals, but it's important to be convincing; send a short-ish document of 10-20 pages (which didn't sound very short to me!) including sample chapters, a description of the format the book will take and why you think it will sell.

The second speaker was Helen Graves, who started the Food Stories blog as "a bit of everything"- food, recipes, restaurant reviews, with a focus on Peckham where she lives. She then decided to narrow the focus and settled on recipes, and started a spin-off blog where she reviewed sandwiches and shared sandwich recipes. It was this blog that attracted the attention of a publisher, and Helen was asked to write a book of sandwich recipes called 101 Sandwiches.
She was then asked to write a second book called Cook Your Date Into Bed, a collection of recipes for lovebirds (after all if the way to a man's heart is through his stomach...) but admitted that it was a bit "off brand" in that it wasn't directly related to her blog. She now has a third book in the pipeline.
Helen recommends making sure your blog has a focus - which is definitely somewhere that I fall down. Still, I like to think my readers want a bit of everything food-related, and I throw in the occasional craft post as well, on the basis that this blog is called Caroline Makes. And occasionally (though rarely, due to lack of time) I make a gift for friends, decorative item or a birthday card, as well as cakes. "Find your voice" was Helen's second point, and I think that what my blog lacks in focus, it does make up for in voice. 
Part and parcel of this is, when pitching your idea to a publisher, is to define your potential reader, identify the competition and promote yourself. At the same time, it is annoying for other people (both on social media and in real life) if you tirelessly self promote. 
On the technical side, Helen advises using Google Analytics to find out where your readers are coming from (both geographically and what they are searching for) so you can offer them what they want, and build on your most popular posts. Good navigation around your blog is important to make it user-friendly and to get people to read other posts. 
Most importantly, carry on with your blog for enjoyment, not just as an end to getting a book deal. Even if that's your ultimate ambition, blogging should be fun.
Patrick Dalton is a real rags to riches (well, success rather than wealth perhaps) story. After being made redundant he sat in the British Library every day trying to write a novel, but spent more time on Facebook. He spent his lunchtimes wandering around taking photos of misspelled signs, bad puns, anything that grabbed his attention and made him laugh. One Friday night in response to a facebook group called "Secret London", which encouraged users to share recommendations for hidden gems, he set up a group called "Shit London" and posted some of his photos. By Monday, the group had hundreds of followers and it snowballed from there. Britons love to moan and poke fun at themselves so his site really caught on- and also caught the attention of a publisher. A few years later, Patrick has had five books - Shit London, Shit London 2, Rude London, Shit New York, and Greetings from Oz (I think the Australian publishers were missing the point slightly). He has also had an exhibition in a gallery of photographs from the books.
Patrick's presentation was mostly going through slides of photos from the books, which were hilarious, than giving advice for getting published. Still, a lot of information came across in terms of how to develop an idea and the kind of work that needs to go into maintaining a successful blog. While I probably gained least useful information about getting published from Patrick, I did enjoy his session the most.
So there you have it - how to turn your blog into a book, as told by three people who had done just that. It was a shame all three had been approached by publishers rather than actively pitching their blogs, but nonetheless they had a lot of good advice and it was a really enjoyable evening. And if you'll excuse me, I just need to write my pitch to that publisher....